Austria navigated its way through the global financial crisis favourably in comparison with numerous other Eurozone jurisdictions and the country still performs strongly in terms of GDP per capita, with an IMF forecast predicting gradual economic growth for Austria towards the end of 2015.
The legal market has felt the impact of the banking crisis with leading practitioners fielding more enquiries relating to regulatory requirements in the financial sector and business crime defence issues than in previous years. In 2015, the legal market has also been alerted to potential banking and insolvency issues arising out of southern state Carinthia’s potential bankruptcy; the state government is liable for €7.6 billion in debt guarantees arising out of Heta Asset Resolution’s balance sheet shortfall. With the national government refusing to cover the debt of its states, bonds to creditors worth millions are likely to go unpaid, and as a result contributors expect the year ahead to be “very lively” for banking lawyers and litigators with insolvency expertise.
Wolf Theiss emerges as the most highly nominated firm across this year’s research, with 35 listings across an impressive range of practice areas including banking, insurance, competition and private client. Leading firms Dorda Brugger Jordis, Schoenherr and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer all achieve 20 listings or more, while a host of other domestic and boutique firms are well-represented, including Eisenberger & Herzog, Graf & Pitkowitz and Fiebinger Polak Leon & Partners. The Austrian legal market is just as susceptible to client cost-sensitivity as other European jurisdictions, and competition among domestic firms has heightened as they look to offer clients more flexible fee structures and client service delivery models. Looking ahead, while the major full-service firms will continue to dominate, the year ahead looks promising for boutique firms “which can offer alternative fee models and innovative methods of client service delivery”.
Fifteen lawyers feature in our banking research for this year’s edition, all of whom have been particularly active with regard to banking regulatory work. Austria recently agreed to lift its veto on radical EU legislation which will require all 28 member states to disclose assets held by foreign EU nationals in their financial institutions, to the effect of ensuring greater transparency throughout Europe. Key banking and financial institution clients have increased their enquiries in respect of the planned law, and many contributors have predicted that the banking legal market will “only become more competitive” as the legislation’s 2018 implementation deadline draws closer. In terms of the leading firms in the banking sector, Schoenherr, Wolf Theiss, Freshfields and Binder Grösswang all continue to perform impressively in our research, reflecting the highly competitive nature of the marketplace in Vienna; over the next year experts have predicted that “the strengthening and consolidation of banking regulatory practices will be a target for leading firms in Austria”. Banking lawyers at the major firms will also continue to see a steady flow of enquiries emanating from the restructuring of financial crisis-affected Hypo Group Alpe Adria, with strong litigation practices also on alert for cases on behalf of creditors with long-term interests in the group, which was nationalised in 2009 amid allegations of gross mismanagement.
More TMT lawyers, 28, are listed in this guide than in any other practice area, reflecting Austria’s status as a primary European jurisdiction for advisory work in the sector. Lawyers we spoke with were pleased to report an increase in the appetites of telecom clients for TMT-related M&A in 2015, driven by the desire of leading European telecoms operators to consolidate, which in turn has been prompted by the possibility of more foreign companies moving into the highly competitive 4G and wireless markets. Practitioners have also commented on close collaboration between firms’ corporate and TMT lawyers, with major mobile operators looking to raise capital in order to reduce debt and provide ammunition for new acquisitions throughout Europe. Epitomising this trend, Telekom Austria finalised its major capital raising in November 2014, reaching 99.7 per cent of its €1 billion target with main shareholders Carlos Slim and state holding company OIAG making full use of their allotments. Slim’s America Movil is planning to use Austria Telekom for further expansion into central and eastern Europe, and as more foreign companies look to increase their shareholding in domestic operators it is likely that Austrian lawyers “will continue to see an increase in cross-border TMT transactions and subsequent advisory work”.
Vienna remains a popular destination for commercial arbitration and 25 lawyers are included in the corresponding section. Leading firms Dorda Brugger Jordis, Binder Grösswang and Baker McKenzie all perform strongly in the research; nonetheless, no firm in the research earns more than two nominations, demonstrating the competitive nature of the field and the extent to which an increasing number of lawyers have developed expertise in the field to a high degree of specialisation. The Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) is able to enforce arbitral awards worldwide and is routinely recognised as a friendly forum due to its neutrality and cost-effectiveness; the VIAC fee allows for a predictable cost calculation and administrative services are modest in comparison with other seats. Perhaps most importantly, VIAC’s central position in Europe means that it provides strong links to Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe. As one respondent commented, “arbitrators and lawyers with expertise in the field continue to benefit from clients engaged in disputes involving the CEE area” and although EU sanctions against Russia are being felt in other practice areas including real estate and private equity, the development is likely to result in more mandates for prominent arbitration experts over the course of the next year.
2015 marks the Vienna International Arbitral Centre’s 40th anniversary. Arbitration law in Austria continues to evolve and recent years have seen a considerable increase in multiparty proceedings. Disputes surrounding whether and to what extent the consumer protection clause of the 2006 Arbitration Act applies in disputes between shareholders rages on, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in April 2014. We single out 25 lawyers in this chapter.
Gerold Zeiler of zeiler.partners Rechtsanwälte provides an overview of the Rules of Arbitration and Conciliation adopted by the Vienna International Arbitral Centre, which took effect in 2013.
Compliance and white-collar crime continue to be growth areas across Europe. In Austria, sources note that experts and forensic accountants are becoming more heavily engaged in legal proceedings as more sophisticated cross-border tracing is required. The 5th Global Focal Point Conference on Asset Recovery was held in Vienna in September 2014 and it is anticipated that transnational investigations will continue to rise. We list three lawyers and two experts highly recommended for their expertise in this field.
Non-performing loan transactions are becoming an increasingly active segment of the market. Recent transactions include liquidating non-performing assets of the former Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank in order to preserve as much value as possible. Hedge funds are also becoming more active in the market financing buyouts in place of the banks. We list 15 lawyers who possess the required skills and expertise to guide clients through complex and sensitive deals.
In recent years Austrian financial criminal law has been considerably tightened. The Public Prosecutor’s Office against White-Collar Crime and Corruption, which was established in September 2011, is in charge of any investigation concerning a criminal charge, and several prominent cases have been reported of late. We single out eight leading lawyers who are skilled at defending individuals and companies in business crime cases.
Austria has one stock exchange, the Vienna Stock Exchange, and although performance of the ATX dropped by 15.18 per cent as compared to year end 2013, 2014 also saw the successful public offering of FACC AG and a record year in terms of new corporate bond listings. For the 11 leading lawyers listed below it was an eventful year.
In 2013 the Austrian Parliament passed a bill amending the competition law regulations. These strengthened private enforcement and the powers of the Federal Competition Agency. Since then, sources have noted that the authority has focused in particular on vertical restraints. With the bulk of these cases being finalised, practitioners are unsure as to what the authority will target next. In this chapter, we select 25 lawyers and four economists who are recognised as leaders in the market.
Growth in the construction industry in Austria remains subdued but the outlook for the year ahead is positive as increased investment in residential construction and infrastructure is expected. In this chapter we single out nine leading lawyers.
Tax law in Austria underwent several changes in 2014, including the abolishment of the 75 per cent loss utilisation threshold whereby losses carried forward could only be offset with 75 per cent of the profit of the current year. Furthermore, salaries paid after 28 February 2014 to employees and exceeding €500,000 per recipient and per fiscal year are no longer deductible for tax purposes. We identify 16 lawyers who are assisting clients in this transitional period as well as three expert witnesses.
The current crises in Eastern Europe could have an adverse risk on the Austrian economy if Russia cuts off oil and gas. At present, there is an increased focus on renewables to limit dependency on imported fossil fuels. We single out 11 lawyers in this chapter.
Energy efficiency continues to be a key consideration in Austria and there are various public subsidies to support projects. At the end of 2013 a new act on waste management entered into force which amended regulations on recycling and collection of waste. In this specialist field, we single out five practitioners.
2014 saw the entry of Dunkin’ Donuts into Austria with the signing of a master franchise agreement with M&D Restaurant Development. Although franchising as a business model remains quite rare in Austria, it continues to grow steadily. Four dedicated professionals are recommended in this chapter.
Public procurement in Austria is governed by the Federal Procurement Act and the Federal Defence and Security Procurement Act. Both cover the main rules on public procurement procedures for public bodies and entities in the water, energy, transport and postal sectors. In early 2015, significant changes to the procurement regime were proposed, including amendments to rules on mandatory award criteria, stricter rules on the involvement of subcontractors and changes to tender analysis. Against this backdrop and in a growing domestic procurement market, lawyers are likely to field an increasing number of enquiries from public sector clients regarding clarification of the procurement procedure. Our research identifies 15 leading individuals in the field.
One of the largest cases in the Austrian market relates to the Hypo Alpe Adria Bank. In March 2015, the Austrian government ruled out providing fresh capital and staged a premiere of new European Union rules to wind down failing banks. Four lawyers are recommended in this specialist field.
The insurance industry in Austria consists of 61 insurance companies and 55 insurance mutuals. In addition, 25 insurance companies based in the European Economic Area have a licensed Austrian branch. In this specialised market we identify six leading practitioners.
According to the 2013 Eurobarometer, Austria is among the best-rated countries for the deterrent effects of successful prosecutions in corruption cases. The Public Prosecutor’s Office against White-Collar Crime and Corruption was established in September 2011 and since then the number of staff employed has steadily increased. In April 2013 an online whistleblower hotline was launched to facilitate investigations. With the fight against corruption ramping up, law enforcement agencies look set to continue focusing on investigating economic crimes. Five “outstanding” practitioners are listed in this chapter.
Austria’s labour market has experienced a growing unemployment rate in 2013 and 2014. With a low employment rate among the elderly the situation presents several problems for the jurisdiction, not least to its pension system. We list 12 lawyers in this chapter with the necessary skills and abilities to advise management on the full scope of labour and employment matters.
Austria has built a strong reputation in life sciences and medical technology. The jurisdiction is home to a growing number of global companies, dynamic start-ups and respected universities, creating a myriad of opportunities for domestic and international firms advising in the area. As the sector’s growth in specific areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices becomes increasingly central to Austria’s economy, it is likely that competition among law firms will increase. Our research highlights 12 leading individuals.
One of the highest-profile cases in Austria in 2014 related to an online privacy challenge against Facebook brought by Austrian citizen Max Schrems. Schrems has filed a proposed “class action” lawsuit in a Vienna court despite Austria having no official class action law. In this sector, we identify 24 litigators.
M&A activity remains volatile and has yet to return to pre-crisis levels. Activity in 2014 has largely been driven by consolidation or work-outs in the banking and industrial sectors. The following 21 practitioners are considered the leading experts in the sector.
Austria is a pioneering centre for mediation law and practice; in 2004 it enacted the first mediation act in Europe. We list seven leading lights in this chapter.
Austria has an active patent litigation scene and was the first country in the European Union to ratify the Unified Patent Court (UPC). Most recently, it was announced that Austria will establish a local division of the UPC in Vienna, which was welcome news to patent lawyers who argue it will improve the legal protection in Austria and prevent a brain drain. The jurisdiction will not start before 2017. In this developing area of law, six lawyers are singled out.
Debate surrounding inheritance tax reform continues as Austria’s governing coalition partners delivered differing proposals on how to fund tax cuts in late 2014. While the centre-left SPO wants to revive inheritance taxes and impose a special levy on millionaires to help pay for lower income tax rates, the centre-right OVP opposes any new levies; at present no compromise has been found. The 12 private client practitioners listed below are watching closely for any changes and how these might affect their clients.
Current trends in the private equity market include equity only deals, secondary transactions, bank driven auction processes, bolt-on acquisitions and market consolidation. The regulatory environment is also active for lawyers due to further need of clarification following the implementation of the AIFMD. Six lawyers are recommended in this chapter.
Product liability remains an active field in Austria and sources have reported a steady year. The Supreme Court recently imposed a product monitoring duty under the Product Liability Act by stating that in the case of serial production, the producer must decide whether each batch created complies with acceptable standards. This may open the door to more legal advisory work as producers navigate what could be a more onerous environment. In this chapter, two product liability defence specialists are selected.
The Austrian real estate investment market broke all records in 2014. Market volume nearly doubled compared to 2013 and at €3 billion, reached the record level of the pre-crisis years up to 2007. The increase was particularly strong in the retail property sector, followed by office properties and hotels. With increased interest from investors from Asia and the Middle East, the outlook for 2015 is also positive. Fifteen lawyers are highly recommended in this chapter.
The technology, media and telecommunications sector in Austria remains active. In 2014, Telekom Austria raised €997 million in a share sale – almost 60 per cent was snapped up by America Movil and a further 28 per cent by the Austrian state holding company, the second main owner of Telekom Austria. We single out 28 specialists in this field.
It was another active year for trademark lawyers in Austria. At the start of 2014 the procedure for all IP rights was amended, with one of the changes giving competence to the Vienna Commercial Court in the first instance for all civil law trademark litigation. Several landmark decisions were reached including defining “lack of distinctiveness” and in relation to copyright. In this dynamic sector we identify 12 leading lawyers.
The lawyers in this section advice on a range of aviation matters including finance, disputes and regulation, as well as on shipping and rail matters. We list a total of 10 lawyers in this section who are recognised for their superior talent and expertise.
Baker & McKenzie is one of the top performing global firms in the Austrian market, harmonising local skill with international expertise.
With over 80 impressive practitioners at the firm, Vienna-based Binder Grösswang has been advising clients for over 50 years. The firm boasts particular expertise in the competition and disputes fields, and its lawyers are commended by clients for their “depth of experience and expertise”. The firm achieves 17 listings across 12 practice areas.
CHSH Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati is a top corporate law firm with an integrated practice in Central and Eastern Europe. Sources attest to the firm’s ability to advise clients across the region in all areas of corporate and commercial law and it has thus garnered a “fantastic reputation” in the legal market. Counting over 180 lawyers across its nine offices, expert practitioners are well positioned to coordinate transactions in the areas of M&A, civil and corporate law, banking, finance, real estate and project development. In our research the firm achieves a total of eight listings across seven practice areas.
CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz has a “superb” reputation for delivering a high-quality legal service to clients in Austria and throughout south-east Europe. Established in 1970 in Vienna, today the firm has eight local offices and 21 partners, and as a member of CMS, clients also benefit from the network’s extensive reach and range of experience and expertise. In this edition the firm achieves 12 listings across eight practice areas: a testament to the firm’s leading reputation in the market.
Dorda Brugger Jordis is a leading Austrian business law firm specialising in commercial law and complex cross-border transactions. Clients include major and medium-sized domestic and international companies and government entities from a variety of business sectors. The firm is lauded for its “outstanding” capabilities in corporate, tax, real estate and banking law among others and boasts a team of approximately 80 lawyers who are renowned in their respective fields. Our research identifies the firm in 17 practice areas with a total of 25 listings.
Freshfields’ Vienna office is one of 27 in its global network that spans Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia. The office comprises 80 lawyers including 13 partners and acts as a bridge between central and eastern Europe in the firm’s global plan.
Originally founded in Austria, Schoenherr Rechtsanwälte’s presence in the country and wider commercial and corporate landscape is impressive. The firm can lay claim to market-leading practitioners in 11 distinct practice areas of this volume; the particularly high praise we received for its lawyers marks it out as one of the very best firms in the country.
From its beginnings in Vienna over 50 years ago, Wolf Theiss now has an extensive network of 13 offices covering Central, Eastern and south-east Europe. The firm’s focus and in-depth experience of working in the developing markets of the CEE/SEE region ensures it is “highly sought after”. In this edition the firm achieves 35 listings in 19 practice areas.
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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.